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September 26, 2018

John Carpenter Brings Halloween to SCA

Alum screens iconic horror film

John Carpenter, Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, and Nick Castle

When talking about the alumni of the School of  Cinematic Arts who have changed the film, television, and video games industry, any list will be incomplete without horror icon John Carpenter.  Most notably, his work with fellow alumi Dan O’Bannon and Nick Castle.

On September 22nd, Carpenter returned to his alma mater to screen Halloween presented by Movies We Love and Visions and Voices, and host a q and a along with Castle -- his USC classmate who played demonic killer Michael Myers.

The gathering served as a homecoming for the two. “This year marks our 50th anniversary of coming to USC Film School” said Castle. “John and I were partners in [intro to film class] 290. We worked together and made a short film that won the Academy Award and it’s been all downhill from there.”

Director of Programming Alex Ago noted that Halloween marked a change in the horror genre where Michael Myers had no motivation and didn’t even seem to have a reason to kill his victims.

Carpenter said, “It’s a problem to know too much about the killer. You don't know anything about Michael Myers. He’s a cross between a human being and a supernatural force. You can’t tell what he’s feeling because of the mask. He’s a force of evil. Moving across a small town. And that was that.”

Castle and Carpenter joked about casting the Michael Myers role and how there was very little thought put into the key decision. “I knew John was shooting a film less than a mile from my house,” said Castle. “In that case, I went down and said, ‘I”ll hang around if that’s OK.’ He said, ‘OK put on the mask and you’ll be here the whole time.’”

Carpenter said, “When I saw Nick walk, I said, ‘This is the walk of a serial killer.’”

In a beginning film course at USC Cinema in the fall of 1969, Carpenter wrote and directed an 8-minute short film, Captain Voyeur. The film was rediscovered in the USC archives in 2011 and featured  elements that would appear in Halloween. Watching the film feels like seeing a test run of the Halloween opening sequence.

Working with Dan O'Bannon and Castle, Carpenter started his first full-length movie while at USC. Dark Star, a sci-fi comedy, started out as a short film about astronauts on a mission to blow up unstable planets, but the pair later expanded it to feature length. Dark Star was released in 1974 and became a cult classic.

Carpenter offered advice for young directors in the audience. “You have to have confidence. You have to have confidence in your vision. If you’re a decent human being, they’ll listen. If you’re the writer/director you have the authority about you. About your vision.”